Latinos—the largest ethnic group in California—have a harder time dealing with mental health issues than Californians of other ethnicities, according to a University of California Davis study reported by The San Francisco Chronicle.

Current data shows that Latinos in California receive significantly less assistance from mental health services than members of other ethnicities. Reasons for this include difficulties in acquiring transportation to services, limited health insurance and inadequate language services. These problems are exacerbated among specific Latino groups with Mexicans worst off—85 percent of Californian Mexican immigrants with mental health issues don't receive treatment.

For the study, researchers conducted community forums in 13 California cities with more than 550 Latino participants. Forum-goers were asked to describe obstacles to mental health care and potential programs, resources and approaches that would help them, their families and their communities overcome those obstacles.

The study offered a number of recommendations for improving mental health care in the Latino community. These include training mental health workers in the cultural needs of Latino patients, using mainstream and online media to raise awareness about mental health, providing support for and improving coordination among grassroots and community mental health organizations, and establishing school-based mental health programs.

These issues are particularly important for Latino youth. Mental health issues often start to manifest at an early age, with 50 percent of severe mental illnesses being diagnosed by age 15.

"I think there is a unique opportunity in the school settings to have early interventions and screenings for kids that may be manifesting some behavioral problems," said lead author Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, MD, PhD, director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities. "Depression screening, for example. It can be the teacher that is trained on how to deliver this information. Or it can be the school nurse. Some should be familiar with this information."

Aguilar-Gaxiola also called attention to the problem of stigma in the Latino community. The study revealed that most participants considered those with mental health issues to be 'crazy' or of weak character, and that patients were better served by religion than by modern mental health services. "It doesn't work like that," he said, warning that such attitudes can be directly and actively harmful to a depressed person's mental health.

"We need to reach out much more to religious leaders," said Gaxiola. "Not only priests, but rabbis and pastors, and work with them to learn how to identify and deal with mental illness."